The Sports Law & Policy Centre | Kick It Out: Tackling Racism in Football
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Kick It Out: Tackling Racism in Football

By Seshank Shekar


The controversy concerning racism in English professional football over the past year came to a conclusion earlier this month, as the English Football Association (“FA”) sanctioned Chelsea Football Club (“Chelsea”) captain John Terry over alleged racist comments made to Queens Park Rangers (“QPR”) defender Anton Ferdinand. The FA sanctioned Terry with a 4 match ban and a €275,000 fine. Terry was caught on camera mouthing words of a racial nature during his altercation with Ferdinand in the QPR penalty area during a match between the two clubs at Loftus Road on October 23, 2012. Terry’s defence was to claim that he was not actually abusing Ferdinand, but merely repeating the words to deny Ferdinand’s accusation. The FA sanctioned Terry, despite the fact that he was acquitted earlier by the British Crown Prosecution Service for the same incident.

There are comparisons to be made with another case earlier this year involving Liverpool Football Club (“Liverpool”) striker Luis Suarez and Manchester United defender Patrice Evra. Suarez, like Terry, received a suspension and fine. However, in Suarez’s case it was an eight- game ban. Terry was given a slightly more lenient ban as he had used the racially attached words only once and not multiple times as in the case of Suarez. It is pertinent to note that, in both cases, the players were found guilty of using racist abuse, rather than being held as inherently racist.

These incidents are part of several other high profile incidents of racism which have plagued professional football over the past three decades, especially in Europe. While incidents of players being caught for using racist abuse is rare, racism and discrimination in football has been prevalent among fans and supporters of some of Europe’s most elite national and club teams (as previously discussed here). However, media coverage and general public outrage over the last decade have led Fédération Internationale de Football Association (“FIFA”), the Union of European Football Associations (“UEFA”), and other national associations to initiate a series of measures to curb the problem of racism in professional football and protect the dignity of coloured players. These measures include the establishment of mechanisms for lodging complaints and taking legal action for racist incidents (or any offence committed in football); and adopting regulations which provide a wide range of penalties for racist behaviour including fines, deduction of points from clubs, playing matches behind closed doors or exclusion of a club or association from official competitions. Some of these measures have been briefly discussed herein.


In early 2001, FIFA vide the Buenos Aires Resolution recognised its responsibility to lead the way in abolishing all forms of discrimination in football. Article 3 of the FIFA Statutes states,

“Discrimination of any kind against a country, private person or group of people on account of ethnic origin, gender, language, religion, politics or any other reason is strictly prohibited and punishable by suspension or expulsion”. The FIFA Disciplinary Code (“Code”) provides penalties and sanctions for violations of the FIFA Statutes, applicable to every match and competition organised by FIFA. All national associations and their respective members, including clubs, officials, players, match officials and any other persons who form a part of FIFA sanctioned match or competition, including spectators are obligated to obey the regulations set out under the Code.

Article 57 of the Code discusses offensive behaviour and fair play, and provides for sanctions on any person insulting another in any way, especially by using offensive gestures or language, or violating the principles of fair play or whose behaviour is unsporting in any other way. Further, Article 58 of the Code provides for the enhancement of any penalty levied under Article 57, in the event that the transgression offends the dignity of a person or group of persons through contemptuous, discriminatory or denigratory words or actions concerning race, colour, language, religion or origin. The enhanced punishment under Article 58 includes suspension of the offending player or official for at least five matches, a stadium ban and a fine of a minimum of Swiss Francs Twenty Thousand (CHF 20,000) for an offence committed by a player, or a minimum of Swiss Francs Thirty Thousand (CHF 30,000) for an offence committed by an official. Furthermore, the Code prescribes harsher penalties for offences committed by several persons from the same club or association. These penalties include 3 point or 6 point deductions or relegation to a lower division in cases where the incident occurs in a league game. In cases where such incidents occur in a non- league or knockout competition, the offending club or national could be subject to disqualification from such competition. In instances where supporters of a team breach the above mentioned provisions, Paragraph 2(a) of Article 58 provides for a fine of at least Swiss Francs Thirty Thousand (CHF 30,000) on the concerned association or club regardless of the question of culpable conduct or culpable oversight on part of the club or association.

Serious offences in such cases may be punished with additional sanctions such as an order to play a match behind closed doors, the forfeiture of a match, a point deduction or disqualification from the competition.


The UEFA Disciplinary Regulations of 2012 (“Regulations”) under Article 11b, Paragraph 1 deals with discrimination and similar conduct, and provides for a suspension of five matches on “anyone who insults the human dignity of a person or group of persons by whatever means, including on grounds of colour, race, religion or ethnic origin”. However, in case a UEFA member association or club or any of their officials are found guilty of such conduct, such suspension can be substituted by a fine depending on the circumstances.

If one or more supporters of the member association or clubs’ engage in such discriminatory behaviour, the member association or club responsible could be subject to a fine of Twenty Thousand Euros (€20,000). Further, depending on the circumstances, the competent disciplinary body has the power to impose additional sanctions on the member association or club responsible including, playing one or more matches behind closed doors, a stadium closure, a match forfeit, deduction of points or disqualification.

The English FA

Rule E (3)(1) of the FA Rules 2012 -13 governing the disciplinary rules and procedure of professional football, state that a participant shall at all times act in the best interests of the game and shall not act in any manner which is improper or brings the game to disrepute. Further, participants are not permitted to indulge in violent conduct, serious foul play, threatening, abusive, indecent or insulting words or behaviour..

Rule E 3(2) provides for an enhanced sanction in the event of breach of Rule 3(1) along with an aggravating factor. These aggravating factors include references to any one or more of a person’s ethnic origin, colour, race, nationality, faith, gender, sexual orientation or disability. In such cases, an Independent Regulatory Commission set up by the FA shall consider the imposition of an increased sanction, which is determined according to the aggravating or mitigating factors present in each case.

Campaigns against Racism

In addition to the aforementioned regulations, football’s governing bodies have designed and supported various anti-racism campaigns across the world using important tournaments and matches to reach out to the world audience and also the clubs or associations involved. These campaigns which have only been affected over the last decade, seek to reinforce football’s stand against racism and actively support efforts to abolish racial discrimination from football and society.

‘The Resolution on Racism’ passed by The Extraordinary Congress of FIFA in Buenos Aires on July 7, 2001 (“2001 Resolution”), one day prior to the FIFA Conference on Racism, provided an additional platform for the efforts against racism. In furtherance of the 2001 Resolution, FIFA has organised designated ‘FIFA Anti-Discrimination Days’, which have taken place at one of FIFA’s competitions every year to raise awareness of the need to abolish racism and other forms of discrimination worldwide. The special activities during the FIFA Anti- Discrimination Days include media briefings and releases, and special pre-match protocols wherein team captains read a declaration against racial discrimination.

UEFA, European football’s governing body has partnered with the ‘Football Against Racism in Europe’ (“FARE”) for the ‘Unite Against Racism’ campaign, which chiefly comprises groups and bodies working against intolerance and discrimination across Europe. In addition to providing substantial financial support to FARE, UEFA has staged special events, issued anti -discrimination publications, and has used the massive public and commercial platform of Europe’s biggest football matches in its premier club competitions, (the Champions League and the Europa League) to portray a message of zero tolerance for any form of racism and discrimination. Selected UEFA club competition matches have teams being accompanied onto the pitch by children wearing ‘Unite Against Racism’ t-shirts and team captains wearing ‘Unite Against Racism’ armbands.

On a national association level, a notable example is that of the English FA, the Premier League and the Player’s Football Association have made joint efforts in supporting and funding the ‘Kick it Out’ campaign, which works throughout the football community to eradicate racial exclusion and discrimination and encourage inclusive and affirmative practices throughout the United Kingdom.


In spite of concerted efforts by football’s governing bodies over the last decade, incidents of racism involving players, officials, fans and supporters, have continued to occur in professional football leagues and tournaments across the world. Despite the staggering wealth and support that elite clubs and national teams generate, racism on the football field is seemingly prevalent. Recently, in a match between Manchester United and Chelsea, a match referee was accused of using racist language. While there has been a notable increase in the number of black and coloured players in major leagues across the world, racism has not altogether disappeared from the football field, this despite the continuous efforts of bodies like UEFA, FIFA and several national associations to ensure football is free from racial discrimination. The fact that racist incidents occur despite governing bodies penalizing perpetrators, demonstrates that the existing sanctions despite being severe are insufficient in deterring member associations and teams in having a zero tolerance policy towards racism. Although there is no definitive explanation as to why the enforcement of these rules and safeguards has not been more effective in eliminating racism – especially from European football – with the increasing instances of racial discrimination on the football field, it has become necessary for football associations and organizations at all levels to monitor racial discrimination on the field more closely and adopt more stringent enforcement mechanisms in freeing football from racial discrimination.


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